The cavalry of the Medes: 7th century BC
The Assyrian war machine is eventually toppled (in 612) as much by accumulated resentment, particularly from Babylon
, as by any military weakness. But among their conquerors are the Medes, nomads from the steppes, who use to devastating advantage their extra agility on horseback. The Assyrians have an effective cavalry, but they cannot match the nimble archery of the Medes
The Persian empire
, which derives from the success of the Medes, grows above all through administrative genius. But the cavalry, together with chariots and archers, are now at the heart of its military successes - rather than the foot soldiers who did most of the work for the Assyrians.
The Persian army: c.500 BC
The regular army of the Persian empire contains an elite corps involving a brilliant element of propaganda. These crack troops are known as the Immortals, for the simple and inspired reason that there are always 10,000 of them (in theory as soon as one dies, another soldier is ready to take his place). At the heart of this 10,000 are an even more special thousand - the royal bodyguard.
The army is precisely decimal. Divisions of 10,000 are divided into battalions of 1000, companies of 100 and squads of 10. The bow is the chief Persian weapon, and the armies' tactics are based on rapid movement and light armour.
In a crisis the Persian standing army is reinforced by a levy on the subject people of the vast empire. The recruits, of widely different origins, fight according to their own customs and with their own weapons, but under Persian officers. Because the Persian empire
is on the whole benevolent, the system works well in most circumstances.
But the Persian armies will prove no match for something new in history - the world's first citizen armies, put into the field by the Greek city states.